MS, MS Device, MSGladiator, MSLiving, MSWarrior, power wheelchairs, Tips

Walking to Power Wheelchair Transition Tips

I have gone over points to consider when you shop for power wheelchairs, but I wanted to also give you some tips on using power wheelchairs also called power chairs.  It’s hard to accept needing to use a power wheelchair.  It can be very emotional. Each device step further from walking unassisted is emotional. This was the case when I realized a power chair was my best option when I was out in public. That was about 2 years ago. Recently, I started using it more often because using a rollator at home became a huge struggle and quite exhausting. I started using the chair during my weaker time of day. Then I noticed it let me be me.  I wasn’t consumed with recovering from walking and then dreading the next steps.  With a power chair I can get there with very little effort leaving me enough strength and energy to do things like make a cup of coffee; get a snack; or feed a cat. Seriously, when alone I would wonder if training a cat to fetch items would require less energy than fetching the item myself. I am sure dog fans just laughed and said I should have a dog instead.

Now there are drawbacks to needing a power chair – more than the emotional hurdle. There are some things easier to do when standing.  It’s definitely difficult when you find that a lot of things you want are Out Of Reach when you’re in a wheelchair. A major reorganization is needed. Then, move on to these:

  1. Remember your toes and knees lead. Mine have bumped into walls, furniture, corners, cabinets, and appliances. Plan your shoes accordingly.
  2. Please,  please,  make sure you turn off the power button whenever you get in, get out, or stop the power chair. It is way too easy to accidentally hit the joystick when you’re reaching for something. Hopefully you don’t fall out of the chair.
  3. After you turn on the power, check the speed setting before you move. I have accidentally changed the setting getting in and out of the chair. My kids also tend to bring the power chair to me at full speed. I learned this the hard way in a parking lot.
  4. Your power chair may have a top speed of 4 – 4.5 mph – average walking speed. I stick to the lower end inside, tight spaces, down ramps, and when rolling over bumpy surfaces.
  5. Your power chair’s stated width is when going exactly straight. Steer even the slightest bit and the caster wheel angle will increase that width. Caster wheel on power wheelchair.
  6. Just because the chair wheels are labeled all terrain or outdoors does not mean all surfaces or that is comfortable riding over those surfaces. Caster wheels can get stuck in surface transition gaps and thick surfaces like pebbles and mulch. Sidewalk cracks can make for a very bumpy ride. This is tolerable if you are going a very short distance, but not comfortable if you are going on a long ‘walk.’ Bumpy rides will increase MS fatigue. My power chair has *no* suspension.
  7. Find a way to take your charger with you at all times.  You never know when you might need to get a power boost when you’re out and about.  Having your wheelchair suddenly lose power can be a little more drama than you wanted but if you can charge yourself up a little bit it’ll help you get out of it. Be ready for confused location employees at stores, restaurants, and small businesses. I had restaurant workers searching for a table next to a power outlet. I gave them a nice tip. If this happens too often when you feel it should be more charged, at least one battery may need replacement.
  8. In crowds, people will tend to step right in front of you. I mean just inches. And sometimes, they will even then stop. Does your power chair have a horn? Go ahead, use it. The typical response is “Sorry, I didn’t see you there.” Yeah, right. 
  9. Be prepared for your wheelchair arms to not fit under the table or desk.  They may need to flip out of the way or just rise above the table or desk top.
  10. Doors will be awkward and sometimes impossible without help.
  11. It is difficult to make a dramatic exit with a power wheelchair.  But I have found it incredibly satisfying to spin while rolling my eyes. If you have teenagers you’ll really appreciate that idea.
  12. Cup of coffee on hot pad.If you want to carry a beverage, something hot, or something cold put it on a good sized kitchen hot pad or dish towel. You are welcome. Yes, the dark spot on the hot pad is where this amount of hot coffee sloshed when I slowly went over a floor transition.
  13. Beware of able-bodied salespeople saying that lifts for the wheelchair are very easy, finger tips only to move.  Usually these tasks require the full balance and full strength of an able body person to do.
  14. Beware of the wheelchair lifts or other methods to carry your wheelchair in a vehicle.  Just because a lift can be installed in your vehicle does not mean it’s actually going to work well for you. Either your vehicle may be too small, or the lift too big, or the chair does not fit either. We had a hard time using a lift in the back of a newer midsize SUV, a Nissan Murano.  In two years of use I don’t think myself, my kids, or any adult were able to put the wheelchair in the back of the vehicle with the lift as it was designed to be done. It takes some shoving and sometimes detachment from the lift. This is all after removing the arms. This is all due to the wheelchair being just too big for the back of that vehicle. Forget about adding luggage, other mobility devices, and large packs of toilet paper.
  15. When hauling your power chair, it may help if your chair is in drive mode and turned off, not neutral push mode. This kept my power chair from moving around in the cargo area. We need it in neutral to shove it in place first.
  16. Beware of what they do to your wheelchair in order to make it attach to a lift. I found that the hollow post that they attached to my power chair prevents me from being able to swivel the seat of the wheelchair. Using the swivel would have made my wheelchair a lot easier to get into and out of.
  17. If you are looking at portable wheelchairs, those that break down to pieces, beware that doesn’t really make it easy for you to move them.  Or even easy for able body people to move them.  Pay close attention to the weight of the heaviest peace.
  18. Buildings with elevators and a handicap entrance may not be fully accessible. My daughter’s dorm had an elevator servicing the 1st floor and up. The wheelchair access was to the basement and a set of stairs to the first floor. Yes, I called and asked in advance. They obviously didn’t really know the dorm. I ended up hanging out in the lobby of a nearby accessible dorm during move in.
  19. Your lap pets will consider you in the wheelchair the ultimate spot to be. I have an older, arthritic cat that will find a lap height perch and wait for me to roll up. He is content with a ride or not. If he gets to look down on another cat it is an obvious bonus.

Cat on lap in power wheelchair.
Cat on lap in power wheelchair.

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